updated 11/1/2007 8:31:47 AM ET 2007-11-01T12:31:47

Two Emirati men are accused of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old French boy, a case that has raised questions about the protection of foreigners and the fairness of a legal system where male rape does not exist as a crime.

The defendants — aged 35 and 18 — briefly appeared in court Wednesday where one was appointed a new lawyer. The other defendant’s attorney did not appear in court for the hearing, which lasted a few minutes.

The two are accused of kidnapping two French boys and sexually assaulting one of them in July. A third defendant, also accused of taking part in the assault and also Emirati, is being tried in a juvenile court where the proceedings are closed to the public.

Last week, the two adult defendants pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping with deceit and illicit sexual intercourse.

According to court documents, the 35-year-old defendant has been identified as HIV positive.

The charges against the two adult defendants carry the death penalty if convicted. It was not immediately clear what sentence the third defendant would face if convicted in juvenile court.

The Emirates’ legal system prohibits the media from naming the defendants until a verdict is reached in the case.

The case has garnered much attention and controversy here in this booming Gulf tourist hub, which boasts of its prosperous economy, relatively moderate lifestyles, and fair commercial and criminal legal systems.

Few legal rights?
But some expatriates here — both affluent working managers and low-paid laborers — have long complained that foreigners have few legal rights. Emirati citizens are far outnumbered by foreign workers and expatriates, mostly from Asia but also from Europe.

Dubai officials deny they have mishandled the case and say they treat fairly both Emiratis and foreigners living in Dubai.

Dubai, like much of the Arab world, also remains largely hostile to homosexuality. The UAE legal system does not recognize rape of men as a crime, only rape of women, although prosecutors can bring other charges in the case of a sexual assault against a man, as they have in the French teenager’s case.

But the teenager and his family have told French newspapers and Web sites that Dubai authorities tried to discourage them from pressing charges in the case, and also failed to tell them that one defendant had tested HIV positive.

The French newspaper Liberation quoted the victim’s family as saying police also tried to force the boy to say he was a homosexual, immediately after the attack. He now lives in Switzerland.

The family could not be reached by The Associated Press this week and calls to the boy’s lawyer in Dubai were not returned.

According to court documents, the juvenile defendant offered the two French boys, one of whom he knew slightly, a ride home from a Dubai mall. The two French boys got in the car but were later joined by the other two adult defendants, the documents said.

The group drove to the edge of the Dubai desert, where the three defendants are accused of taking turns sexually assaulting one of the boys in the car while the other one was told to stay behind a sand dune, according to the court documents.

The judge on Wednesday set another hearing for Nov. 7.

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